BANGLADESH: Rural mothers lack awareness of malnutrition risks – experts

DHAKA, 14 September 2009 (IRIN) – Rural mothers in Bangladesh lack adequate knowledge about malnutrition risk factors, say experts.

Forty-one percent of children under five are underweight and 43 percent are stunted due to malnutrition, the latest Bangladesh Demographic and Health Survey (BDHS) reports.

“The lack of awareness among rural mothers in our country is alarming,” AKM Azad Choudhury, a leading child care specialist in the country, told IRIN in Dhaka.

“Few are conscious about the proper diet of an infant,” he explained, adding that many were ignorant about the aggravating effect malnutrition had on other childhood diseases.

Diarrhoea and pneumonia are responsible for 36 percent of deaths among children aged 1-5 in Bangladesh, health officials say.

According to the latest national Child and Mother Nutrition Survey (CMNS), only 30.9 percent of rural mothers have proper knowledge regarding the importance of exclusive breastfeeding in the first six months of life, and only 38.8 percent knew the proper age of complementary feeding.

“Maintaining a balanced diet is crucial in avoiding malnutrition. The people of our country, especially in the rural areas are not properly informed about the importance of having a balanced diet,” Ferdousi Begum of Dhaka Medical College (DMCH) told IRIN.

Over 80 percent of the Bangladeshi diet is comprised of rice, he said.

Education makes a difference

Of the children born to illiterate mothers, 46.8 percent were underweight and 52.4 percent were stunted, CMNS shows.

However, among children whose mothers had 10 or more years of formal education, those numbers dropped to 21.4 and 24.7 percent respectively, it added.

But bringing about change will not be easy in Bangladesh: Child malnutrition levels are higher here than in many places in Africa.

“The ratio of underweight children in Ethiopia, Rwanda and Uganda is 38 percent, 22 percent and 20 percent, which is much better than Bangladesh,” Tahmeed Ahmed, head of the nutrition programme of the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh (ICDDR,B), said.

Leading international medical journal The Lancet, lists Bangladesh among 20 countries which are home to 80 percent of the world’s malnourished children.

Government efforts

In 1995, with support from the World Bank, Bangladesh launched the National Nutrition Programme (NNP), aimed at improving the country’s nutritional status.

“We are trying hard to address the malnutrition situation. A lot of progress has been made but we still have a long way to go,” Mustafizur Rahman, assistant director of NNP, said.

The NNP and other branches of the government’s Health and Family Welfare Ministry and Education Ministry regularly launch public campaigns to increase awareness about malnutrition.


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